There are many topics I like to talk about at Mass. I do not mind taking on the list of forbidden topics (abortion, artificial birth control, marriage, and so on). There are two topics, though, I do not talk about. One is politics. My reason for this is that I have a I have general disdain for politics and resent how they hijack moral issues and turn them into political issues…which form 99% of the so called forbidden list. I will talk about God’s law which is eternal as opposed to man’s law which changes on societal whims. I would sooner wade into the cesspool that is politics before I talk about money.
I have several reasons for this. First, I am not running a business. I will grant that being pastor of a parish has businesslike elements to it: payroll, taxes, budgets, and bills. That said, what we offer in a parish isn’t goods and services. It isn’t any more like a business than a family is. A family also had financial aspects to it, especially as it grows, but it is not a business. No good parish is set up like a business franchise in order to sell holy stuff. A parish that shoots for such is doomed. When this happens, a parish is continually chasing the consumer demands. It ceases forming those in its care, but gets formed by those with interest that may or may not have the primary goal of the proclamation of the Gospel.
Second, while having a sense of business management is helpful, a parish can have all the money in the world and be dead. One can be wealthy, but be an homage to lukewarmness. Wealth is not the goal of a parish. In fact, true wealth is not measured in dollars and cents. Jesus tells us to store up wealth in heaven. That wealth is the byproduct of the proclamation of the Kingdom. That is my focus and the focus of any stable parish.
I will talk about stewardship instead. Stewardship is a different concept altogether. Stewardship is understanding of taking care of what God has given. Stewardship is expressed in our active care of and for parish and those the parish serves.
In the Old Testament, there were two types of offerings: the sin/peace offering and the thanksgiving offering. The sin/peace offering was the sacrifice of one’s prize animal because one had sinned. The animal took the punishment due to the person who sinned. In our Catholic faith, we believe that this sacrifice is done in the Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Mass, we directly participate in the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. This is why animal sacrifices no longer happen in Christianity. However, the second sacrifice, the thanksgiving sacrifice is not suppressed. That thanksgiving sacrifice is also called the tithe.
In the Old Testament, the thanksgiving sacrifice was the first fruits of one’s labor. It was a thanksgiving to God made as a thank you to God for all the blessings He had given. To commandeer the thanksgiving sacrifice for one’s own use, God tells the prophet Malachi, was theft from God. It was the act of a spoiled and entitled child. The sacrifice was to be used to two ends. First, it was to be used to the help the livelihood of those who served God. Priests and Levites were to not own farms or businesses so that they might be dedicated completely to the service of God and His people. Part of the thanksgiving sacrifice to be distributed to those who were in need. These are still in effect.
My task as a priest is the same. As a priest, I am prohibited from owning a business, having an outside job, or living in grandeur. Canon Law says we priests should live simply and be dedicated 24/7 to the service of God and His people. In the same vein, most parishes have staff, clerical, educational, administrative, maintenance, and such who assist the pastor in executing the ministries of the parish and see to the good and upkeep of the property. Part of the thanksgiving offering goes to helping these things happen and pays for the material necessities (utilities, insurance, for example) to keep parish programs and building going strong. When the thanksgiving sacrifice is withheld and when first fruits turn to scraps, the ability of a parish to fully do its mission is truncated. Stewardship is all about making sure that these things are done and done well. Part of the thanksgiving offering is to go to the help of the needy.
My task in the stewardship is twofold. First, I too must give a thanksgiving offering. Second, as pastor, I am directly answerable to God for how I use that offering. If I misuse the funds to own personal gain, I stand answerable to God for having stolen what was given and dereliction of duty. My job isn’t to tell you what to give. I do not look at giving records. I do not make it my business. What is given is between the giver and God. I am answerable to God for what I gave and you are answerable for what you give.
Stewardship, though, is measured in more than dollars and cents. Stewardship is also measured in the participation we give in the mission of the parish. Many believe that my only obligation to the parish is to show up for Mass. Oftentimes the collection becomes a cash register: we pay for the services we use. This is horrible understanding of what being a part of the Body of Christ means. Our giving of time, energy, and resources should be measured in what is the needs of the Body of Christ in my parish. What a parish can do is expanded or contracted and even negated by what time, energy, and monies are given or not given. If we want a lively and holy parish, our stewardship is the fuel we put into the tank. God puts in His grace and we put in our thanksgiving.
Monies are always needed as our creditors will not take, “I’ll pray for you’ in lieu of a cash. The members of our staff, paid much less than those in the same field in the private sector, have a right for a just wage for their jobs. Buildings and properties need constant upkeep. We have a mission to get to. Our thanksgiving sacrifice fuels these things. When we give God our scraps and not our first fruits, we tell God two things: I do not trust Him to provide for me nor do I care about the mission of His Church enough to throw my lot in with it.
How much a parish succeed or fails is wholly dependent upon the stewardship each parishioner gives. The collection is not a cash register to pay for services rendered, but part of the thanksgiving sacrifice we make to God. If we want our mission to expand and grow deeper, we must invest ourselves. We must invest our time, energy, and treasure to the good of the mission of Christ. That comes in the form of prayer, of volunteering, and of treasure. AS God is to never be outdone in generosity, the proper giving of the thanksgiving sacrifice reaps what it sows. Sow sparingly and one will only reap sparingly.
When it comes to finance, I can tell you the following in how I see my job as pastor. First, I do not like debt. I am a big believer in staying on top of our bills and putting money away to make sure that future capital improvements can be done on schedule. I am a fiscal hawk. I do not throwing money away or spending money twice because corners were cut. I believe I am totally answerable to God for every cent you all give. I am answerable for how the time and energy you give is appreciated and used. It is unbecoming of a pastor to take advantage of the good will or be thankless for their generosity. In other words, I will use wisely what you give, but I can only use that which you give. I can only invest the principle you give me to invest.